When you work in a B2B services industry, you have long client relationships. I have clients I’ve worked with for years and those are the ones I love. Then there are those, well, that require a bit more patience. Dealing with difficult clients is challenging, however, I’m fortunate that I rarely have this type of customer. But when I do, I try to deal with them in the appropriate manner.
Below I’ve identified the most common types of difficult clients and how to deal with each. See which ones sound familiar to you.
Dealing With Difficult Clients
1. The Ultra-Hands-On Client
You know the one: They call the second they send you an email to make sure you got it. They follow up before the deadline on a project to make sure it’s on track.
In the office, they’re known as the Micro-manager. But since you’re a consultant, it’s a bit weird that they try to get so involved. After all, they’re paying you to do what you do best, right?
My advice here is to establish boundaries.
I’ve had an ultra-hands-on client call me on the weekend – yes, the weekend. I firmly let them know I’d be available at 8 AM on Monday to discuss the non-urgent marketing emergency they felt they were having. You can also give yourself some breathing room on deadlines so you can meet them before the client has a chance to check up on you.
If you tell them you’ll complete a project on Friday and you know they’ll call on Thursday, finish it on Wednesday to avoid them breathing down your neck. But be subtle about it – or else they’ll start calling you on Tuesday.
2. The Untrusting Client
This is the one who isn’t quite sure you’re able to handle the task or understand their company as well as they do.
They’re right to be a bit territorial. But it’s your job to reassure them that you’re skilled in what you do, and get them to let go of their firm grip on things.
A lot of times, it’s about control in this situation. And you can’t fight someone’s will to be in control (just ask my husband).
To that end, include your client in the process. Ask for feedback and get their opinion — unless you start to get the sense that they think you’re doing so because you’re unsure of yourself. In that case, show extreme confidence in what you do. If it’s early in your relationship, point them to other clients that can give you a shining recommendation.
3. The “I Can Do It Better Myself” Client
If your client wasn’t so busy running their business, they’d be writing, designing and/or programming whatever you do.
They took a survey course in that field in college 10 years ago, so they know what they’re doing. (But do they really??) So they try to impart their opinion on everything you do. It’s getting in the way of you actually getting quality work done, and sometimes their opinions…how can we say – aren’t shared by the general public.
Make them feel like you’re there to lighten their load. Stress the importance of them focusing on what they do best (run their company) while you do the silly, boring work they hired you to do.
When to Fire a Client
You can try all these strategies to try to make an ornery client easier to deal with, but sometimes it’s not worth the stress. In that case, it might be wiser to fire the client. If any of these situations below are coming up regularly, consider letting the client go:
- Projects are taking longer than they should due to constant client involvement.
- You have to revise work frequently and you aren’t getting paid for it.
- The scope of projects gets bigger but the client is unwilling to pay for more work.
- You don’t have time to focus properly on your other clients.
The better you can find successful ways when dealing with difficult clients you may have, the more streamlined your work will be. It’s a matter of determining the best strategy to handle each client.
Frustrated Photo via Shutterstock
Keep track of time spent and assign some real life value to your stress and anxiety. If they client isn’t ROI positive after you do, fire them!
Good points. Money isn’t the only measure of solid ROI if you’ve got a client that makes your hair fall out!
Of the three clients, I’d hate to work with the first as I’d find it highly claustrophobic and controlling. I don’t like my shoulder being looked over.
Joint first is the third client. Managing/deflecting their ego being directed at me would be too much for me.
They’re all a challenge to work with, but each of us can tolerate different types!
Yes, all a challenge. Bless ’em! Second client, I think I can deal with their trust issue. I understand it.
I hope that if I’m ever someone else’s client, I don’t give them a hard time …unless they deserve it. (kidding) (or am I?)
I tend to agree with you, me personally if it’s a paying client, i listen and respond, but sometimes even a paying clients needs to be told kindly told, ” i don’t need your business.”
The 3rd type of clients is really annoying. If you can do this better than me, then why do you ask me to do this? Anyway I haven’t had problems with such clients. Maybe, I’m lucky.)
It’s usually more of a control thing; especially if they’re small business owners, they often have trouble letting go.
Nice post, Susan. Lots of small business owners, particularly those who trade time for dollars, fail to measure profitability in their interactions with their clients. I think that’s because it involves time-consuming measurement and number crunching. However, it’s the best way to be sure a particular client relationship is a win for you. I kept a time sheet for years, and I go back to it when I start to sense that something’s off kilter.
I agree with Robert. Part of this equation must be your stress level. If I client leaves you feeling drained, you won’t do your best work for your other (possibly more profitable) clients!
Thanks for your thoughts.
Thanks for your comment, Ann. I do the same; I bill for every interaction for clients who seem to take more of their fair share of my time. You’ve got to stand up for your time; it’s precious!
I hate working with clients like the first one mentioned. It’s ok to be hands-on with whatever job or task it is but if I’m there because it’s my job, well then I would like to do it without being bothered every once in a while.
Agreed, Eds. It’s just something we have to work around, eh?